We have only one WORLD yet! -- Fall 2001: 7th issue -- If we destroy it, where else can we go to?
Ulysses in Manhattan:
by Nilüfer KUYAS
Fragility and resilience. Those are the two themes that hit me whenever I look at the walls of the world that Burhan Dogançay has been documenting for years, with photo camera or on canvas, or when I view his other photographs of city scapes, particularly those originating in New York where he lives.
Detritus and debris. Destruction and rejuvenation. Vulnerability and resistance.These are the other great themes that emerge from Dogançay's obsessive documentation of urban graffiti, metropolitan building sites, or changing city façades from all over the world. But nowhere is it as striking as the work he has produced in New York, his adopted city where he struggled, hungered and suffered to forge the unique style that became his signature.
Like Ulysses, his journey took him far away from the Aegean shores of Turkey, the land of Troy that was his original home, but his Ithaca turned out to be another island at the other end of the world, Manhattan.
It was on a New York rooftop that he first discovered the shadow play on torn posters that led to some of the most exciting forms in his art. It was on a wall in Manhattan that he first encountered the haphazard collage that urban civilization offered and there was no stopping him after that.
world is within us
Like all true artists, Dogançay moved with the world but also moved the world. He gazed at the human misery reflected on urban walls and years ago predicted that terrorism would be on the rise in the new century. It was not always necessary for him to go into the third world to see the "human debris", the homeless sleeping on the streets. He already knew that the third world is within us, in our own cities, including New York. His photographs from the 1970s of the homeless in New York sleeping in the gutters are ample proof of that.
It is impossible not to feel that same pioneering spirit in Dogançay when one looks now at his photographs of New York building sites from the 1980s. Plots of rubble, pulled down buildings lying in their own debris, the destruction that was followed by the rebuilding, the cycle of cities to which he was sensitive right from the start. There is energy and big statements in our post-modern urban civilization, but the shadow side of it is the destruction and the suffering. The heroic and the wretched go hand in hand. So Dogançay not only documented the wretched on the gutters, but he also saw the heroes on the scaffolding of high-rises newly erected. The series of photographs he took on the construction site of the famous "Lipstick Building" in the mid 80's show us another heroic side of the New York working class. The same heroes that today remove the debris form the World Trade Center disaster, were also the heroes who erected the newest skyscrapers of New York in the 1980s. High up, they look like surreal trapeze artists in Dogançay's dramatic black and white images. There is empty space, a steel beam and two men standing on it as if they were chatting on a sidewalk. Simple and striking.
Destruction, yes. Those heaps of rubble, the plots of urban no man's land look chilling. But there is also rejuvenation, rebuilding, resilience. It is not only money and power. It is simple human, day to day heroism. The kind of heroism that knows not itself. The truest kind. Ordinary men doing their "ordinary" work, fifty stairs up from the ground, walking above the void.
There is a direct link between those images of resilience, and the images of resistance coupled with fragility that Dogançay finds in his collages of walls covered with graffiti, posters, signs, codes, messages, images. The urban hell, the urban paradise. Like many an immigrant, like many an artist, like many an Ulysses looking for a new life on the shores of Manhattan, Dogançay embraces the energy of the promised land, the dream of a new world, the nightmare of getting crushed in one's own broken dream.
The kind of old fashioned humanism, the Eastern wisdom that Dogançay brings into his work is exactly the kind of energy that fragilized Manhattan shall need to reconstruct and to rejuvenate after the horrific disaster. When the World Trade Center is eventually rebuilt, there is no doubt that we shall see Dogançay on that construction site as well, with his camera and his unique look.
At the end of the Odyssey, the inner struggle in Ithaca is about to turn
into a new war when the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intervenes
and calls a halt to hostilities, speaking for eternal world peace. Human
resilience in the face of adversity is followed by healing and the hope
for peace. When Manhattan, in its unique blend of ruthless power and
human fragility, roots for peace and starts healing, it shall need not
only its businessmen or moneymakers but its artsits as well, and I am
sure Burhan Dogançay will be among them.
Another Turkish artist who also lives in New York and who is also destined
for greatness is the pianist Fazil Say and among his compositions my
favourite is a small piano piece called "Dervish in Manhattan".
Ulysses and dervish, they are two sides of the same coin, and Burhan
Dogançay has a bit of both I think. New York is lucky to have
him. We in Istanbul do not mind sharing him with New York, as long as
through him and other artists our hands and our hearts are joined still
in the hope of a better world. That is the spirit in which The Light
Millenium Project was also founded I believe, and in paying tribute
to Burhan Dogançay I also salute all the firends who created
this project, and extend a specially warm greeting to NewYorkers in
their difficult hour. About
Fictional profile of Burhan DOGANCAY (January 2000) Are
We A Reflection of Black Holes? (March-April 2000)
A Fictional profile of Burhan DOGANCAY (January 2000)
We A Reflection of Black Holes? (March-April 2000)
We will be celebrating the second anniversary with the Winter-2002 issue. Deadline: January 7, 2002